Hail, Caesar! Review

As heard in the podcast last week, here is my full review of Hail, Caesar! We’ll be further discussing its impact and massive box office on this week’s podcast. Subscribe and check out the show at http://epicfilmguys.podbean.com!

 

The latest offering from the Coen Brothers- Hail, Caesar!– seems almost too big to digest in a single sitting. It boasts fantastic performances from an all-star cast, from Clooney to Fiennes to Swinton and Johansson among many others. It is really an assemblage of vignettes about a random group of characters under the employ of Capitol Pictures, and pressed to keep the stars in line is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a “fixer” whose charge is keeping the studio’s reputation intact.

What the Coens have managed to do quite effectively here is wrap this entire film around Mannix and his attempt to keep things moving in the right direction, which is thrown completely out of whack when his star player, Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is kidnapped by “The Future,” and a ransom is demanded. It is sad that the marketing really let this film down, and it was clear that the studio didn’t have much clue about how to sell it. From the trailers, it seems to be a mish-mash of pastiches of Hollywood, with some clever satire and plenty of oddball humor tossed in for good measure. It is more appropriately labeled a character’s journey for Mannix, as he is tempted away by a job at Lockheed Martin and experiences a “crisis of faith,” which is cleverly mirrored in the film-within-the-film, the so-titled Hail, Caesar!, the studio’s biggest prestige picture to date.

The criticisms of the film are all astute observations thereof, be assured. Most of the stars billed only get a scene or two and are far less important to the overall narrative than one might think. Save for Mannix, there is no character’s journey to follow, no emotional investment in the side characters, no matter how brilliantly charismatic and scene-stealing they may be (looking at you, Alden Ehrenreich and Channing Tatum). It doesn’t make a grandiose protagonist of Mannix, who- as played by Brolin- is overwhelmingly exhausted by the whole affair.

Yet somehow, even in the light of all those criticisms and all of the film’s quibbles- dreadful pacing in parts chief among them- it still works, because the film is first and foremost a love letter to Hollywood’s golden age. Elaborate homages to the western, the Gene Kelly musical, brillianty-choreographed aquatic numbers, big studio stars, “movie stars” versus “actors,” with touches of the transition from silent film to talkies and a heavy dose of film noir & cold war thrillers. Slapstick comedy is tossed in for good measure. For anyone who professes to be a lover of film, whether the whole thing congeals into a coherent picture at the end, one cannot deny the sheer genius of each of these reproductions, from those that will warm the heart to those that make one want to shoot out of their seat in thunderous applause (again, looking at you, Tatum).

It’s not perfect by any means, but it is a window into Mannix’s world and the intricacies of the web spun within it. Enough of it works, even if all of the gags don’t land perfectly, to make the experience worth it in the end. Some of the setups are absolutely hilarious, and Frances McDormand reminds us all why she’s simply brilliant. A number of critics and fans have commented that the parts are greater than the whole, and that’s true… to a point. Still, it is visually stunning thanks to some great work by cinematographer Roger Deakins, and Carter Burwell manages to create a vivacious score that pulls the film through the lulls and brings it to a finish with gusto. 8/10.

 

– Epic Film Guy Nick

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